Down payment minimums vary and depend on various factors, such as the type of loan and the lender. Each lender establishes its own criteria for down payments, but on average, you’ll need at least a 3.5% down payment. Aim for a higher down payment if you have the means. A 20% down payment not only knocks down your mortgage balance, it also alleviates private mortgage insurance or PMI. Lenders attach this extra insurance to properties without 20% equity, and paying PMI increases the monthly mortgage payment. Get rid of PMI payments and you can enjoy lower, more affordable mortgage payments.

This makes the 30-year fixed-rate home loan very different from an adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). An adjustable loan, as its name suggests, has an interest rate that can change over time. But the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage remains true to its name, keeping the same interest rate (and the same monthly payment amount) through the entire repayment term.
A lender offers you a mortgage interest rate based upon a number of factors, but by far the most important is the secondary market for mortgages. Banks typically sell their mortgages to aggregators like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are government-sponsored enterprises that buy and repackage mortgages. Aggregators issue mortgage-backed bonds to investors in the secondary market. The daily fluctuations of supply and demand affect the interest rates investors require to buy these bonds. As the economy strengthens, investors require a higher interest rate on bonds because of growing competition for their investment dollars. Banks peg their mortgage interest rates to the daily interest rate on mortgage-backed bonds in the secondary market.
If you have lost your job, had a reduction in work hours or income, or are unemployed, then you may qualify for assistance. Homeowners can receive mortgage help from the federal government Home Affordable Unemployment Program. This program can reduce someone’s monthly mortgage payments for up to 6 months, which will provide an individual time to find a new job. Read more on the unemployment mortgage program.

As interest rates rise, so does your monthly payment, with each payment applied to interest and principal in the same manner as a fixed-rate mortgage, over a set number of years. Lenders often offer lower interest rates for the first few years of an ARM, but then rates change frequently after that – as often as once a year. The initial interest rate on an ARM is significantly lower than a fixed-rate mortgage.


If you can afford the higher payments, or are willing to buy a less expensive home, a 15-year mortgage can save you thousands of dollars in interest and can allow you to own your home free and clear in half the time. Fifteen-year interest rates are about one percentage point lower than 30-year rates, and you might be surprised how much the combination of a lower rate and shorter amortization period can save you.
Many real estate agents want you to be pre-qualified for a loan before they will start to work with you. The mortgage pre-qualification process is fairly simple, usually just requiring some financial information such as your income and the amount of savings and investments you have. Once you are pre-qualified, you will have a better sense of how much you can borrow and the price range of the homes you can afford.
On the other hand, if you know you will be selling in the not-too-distant future, the lower interest rate that comes with an ARM might make sense. Even if rates jump in a few years, you’ll be selling anyway so it won’t impact you. You can also select a hybrid ARM that is fixed for a certain number of years (3, 5, 7 or 10) then adjusts annually for the remainder of the loan. The risk with an ARM is that if you don’t sell, your payments may go up and you may not be able to refinance.
As the housing market shows more upward movement, the temptation to borrow more than you can afford becomes enticing. That’s why it’s important to really look at how much you can spend. Your mortgage payment should be comfortable even if it’s a stretch, not a weight that drags you down each month. The lender will look at your income, debt and savings, and is required by federal regulation to demonstrate your ability to repay a loan. So while that determines how much you can borrow, it isn’t necessarily what you can afford.
This is the distinguishing characteristic of a fixed mortgage. The interest rate you start off with stays with you for as long as you keep the loan, even if you keep it for the full 30-year term. The rate assigned to an adjustable mortgage, on the other hand, can change over time. These are very important differences, from a home buyer’s perspective.
The pre-approval process is fairly simple: Contact a mortgage lender, submit your financial and personal information, and wait for a response. Pre-approvals include everything from how much you can afford, to the interest rate you’ll pay on the loan. The lender prints a pre-approval letter for your records, and funds are available as soon as a seller accepts your bid. Though it’s not always that simple, it can be.
If you have a hybrid ARM or an ARM and the payments will increase – and you have trouble making the increased payments – find out if you can refinance to a fixed-rate loan. Review your contract first, checking for prepayment penalties. Many ARMs carry prepayment penalties that force borrowers to come up with thousands of dollars if they decide to refinance within the first few years of the loan. If you’re planning to sell soon after your adjustment, refinancing may not be worth the cost. But if you’re planning to stay in your home for a while, a fixed-rate mortgage might be the way to go. Online calculators can help you determine your costs and payments.

A third option – usually reserved for affluent home buyers or those with irregular incomes – is an interest-only mortgage. As the name implies, this type of loan gives you the option to pay only interest for the first few years, and it’s attractive to first-time homeowners because of the low payments during their lower earning years. It may also be the right choice if you expect to own the home for a relatively short time and intend to sell before the bigger monthly payments begin.
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Conventional loans require a home buyer to make a 20 percent down payment and many home buyers don’t have enough cash on hand to make that down payment therefore they are required to pay for mortgage insurance as part of their monthly payment. This insurance protects lenders if a borrower should default on the loan. Until late 2014, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac required down payments of at least 10 percent. This requirement pushed many home buyers into Federal Housing Administration loans or FHA loans, which have a 3.5 percent minimum down payment. The problem is that FHA premiums are costlier than private mortgage insurance. But in 2015, qualified buyers will be able to get Fannie and Freddie backed mortgages with down payments as little as 3 percent. These premiums will be dependent on credit scores and the size of the down payment. Private mortgage insurance premiums are generally more affordable than FHA premiums.
Treasury/FHA Second Lien Program (FHA2LP): If you have a second mortgage and the mortgage servicer of your first mortgage agrees to participate in FHA Short Refinance, you may qualify to have your second mortgage on the same home reduced or eliminated through FHA2LP. If the servicer of your second mortgage agrees to participate, the total amount of your mortgage debt after the refinance cannot exceed 115% of your home’s current value.

PLEASE READ: It is important to note that Keep Your Home California has no role in the loan modification process and no influence on a Servicer’s decision to approve or decline such a request. The process of obtaining a loan modification during the period of Unemployment Mortgage Assistance Program benefits is completely between the homeowner and their Servicer. The Servicer may have policies that affect the homeowner’s ability to receive a loan modification while receiving Keep Your Home California unemployment benefit assistance.
Start by requesting the free annual credit report you’re entitled to at AnnualCreditReport.com. “For each credit account you have, the report shows creditors’ names, the amount owed, the highest balance owed, available credit, whether the account is open or closed (and who closed it), the number of times a payment was past due, and whether the account is in default,” Freddie Huynh, a lead data scientist at FICO (Fair Isaac) for 18 years who is now Vice President of Credit Risk Analytics at Freedom Financial Network, explains.

Your credit score. Your credit score is one of the most significant factors in getting approved for a mortgage, and it also influences the interest rate you’ll end up with. The better your score, the lower your rate will likely be and the less you’ll pay in interest. You’re entitled to free credit reports each year from the three major credit bureaus, so request them from annualcreditreport.com and dispute any errors that may be dragging your score down.


In addition to saving for a down payment, you’ll need to budget for the money required to close your mortgage, which can be significant. Closing costs generally run between 2% and 5% of your loan amount. You can shop around and compare prices for certain closing expenses, such as homeowners insurance, home inspections and title searches. You can also defray costs by asking the seller to pay for a portion of your closing costs or negotiating your real estate agent's commission. Calculate your expected closing costs to help you set your budget.

Catholic Charities also runs a number of free foreclosure counseling programs. They have locations across the nation, and case managers at many centers specialize in dealing with housing issues, including mortgage delinquency and providing more general homebuyer assistance. The services also deal with overall credit counseling and repair. All services are free to qualified families, and locations are approved and certified by HUD. Read more on Catholic Charities free housing counseling.
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